ACM womENcourage Europe

01 March 2014, Manchester, UK

WomENcourage Unconference

An unconference ( is a participant-driven meeting.   It is an amazing way to connect people who have similar interests, and because it is driven by the participants, it often has great outcomes.

Brian “Fitz” Fitzpatrick (of “Fitz and Ben” fame, see their video lectures) writes: 

Why an unconference?

  • It's like networking, but with substance. It's a safe environment for people to meet new people, but the context isn't "what can this person do for me?" rather "what makes this person interesting, and what can I share with them that I'm passionate about?"
  • A good unconference is like taking just the speakers from a conference and putting them together for a weekend intellectual jam session
  • It's a way to introduce interesting people to one another
  • Share interests and passions
  • Build community
  • Tim O'Reilly describes it as a way to "build more synapses in the global brain"

What is it? Why should I have one?

All the best parts of a conference without the worst parts:
  • Cool people
  • No boring Powerpoint presentations
  • No "seat warmers"
  • Just "hallway conversations"
  • Usually consists of two types of people:
  • Those who are awesome and know it's OK to do awesome things
  • Those who are awesome but don't know it's OK to do awesome things. A good unconference is often a catalyst for these people to start doing awesome things.

OK, I’m excited! How are we going to do this? In only one hour???

  • There will be Post-it notes available throughout the morning.  In any break, write down topics you want to talk about -- with your name -- on Post-its.  One Post-it per topic. Don’t forget your name!  You are the leader if the topic is chosen!  Post the note on one of the boards in the conference room.
  • During lunch, the unconference volunteers will de-duplicate the ideas: so that if the same idea is posted multiple times, they will be grouped together.
  • After de-dup, everyone will put a mark “I” on the ideas that they are most interested in. Max 2 per person.
  • During the panel discussion, the unconference volunteers will select the most popular topics, assign topics to rooms, and announce them at the start of the unconference.
  • If you wrote the topic, you’re the session leader!
  • Vote with your feet: go to the room with the topic you find most interesting.
  • Again, vote with your feet!  If the topic stops being interesting, leave and go to another room.
  • Treat the conversations as “in confidence”! Respect any request for privacy. If you don’t want to be quoted, say so. If you explicitly quote someone, ask permission.

If you are the session leader...

… because you wrote down the idea:

  • Your job is to lead the discussion
  • You will have help!  There will be an unconference volunteer to help you with any issues
  • Make sure that EVERYONE gets a chance to speak
  • Keep track of the time so that you also get a chance to discuss actions or conclusions or experiments
  • Assign someone to take notes
  • Assign someone to write a summary for the web site

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